Two tankers carrying liquefied natural gas from Russia’s northern coast are due to arrive at their destination in China in the coming days, marking the first time since the Yamal LNG plant came on-line in December that gas from the facility has arrived in Asia directly via the Northern Sea Route.
The shipments are the first of what will be regular east-bound shipments of LNG on the Northern Sea Route between June and November, when ice conditions allow ships to sail unaccompanied.
Some 30 shipments of gas have been transported from the Yamal LNG project since it came on-line last year. Although all of previous shipments have been west-bound, some of the gas eventually reached Asian markets — but only after being transferred to conventional tankers and being transported through the Suez Canal.
Now that’s about to change.
After setting sail on June 25, the Vladimir Rusanov reached the Bering Strait on July 6. The second, the Eduard Toll, which departed on June 26, arrived entered the ice-free waters of the Chukchi Sea on July 7.
Both ships are scheduled to deliver their cargo to PetroChina’s Rudong terminal in Jiangsu province.
Neither Novatek, which operates the Yamal LNG plant, nor MOL, which operates the vessels, announced the expected arrival dates, but ship-tracking data indicates they will complete their voyages around July 18. That is about half of the time the voyage would have taken had the ships sailed via the Suez Canal.
Because the route is not entirely ice-free, ships must be specially developed to sail in ice as thick as 7 feet (2 meters). The Vladimir Rusanov and the Eduard Toll are two of five ships currently capable of making the voyage unaccompanied, though 10 more are under construction.
Novatek also has plans to expand production capacity at the existing Yamal LNG plant by a third by 2019. Construction of a second production facility is expected to be completed by 2023. Together, the two production plants would make Yamal the world’s largest gas exporter.
The Vladimir Rusanov and the Eduard Toll are also first two tankers to complete an unaccompanied voyage of the Northern Sea Route this year. They follow in the path of the Christoph de Margerie, which became the first NSR tanker to sail the route unaccompanied when it transported LNG from Norway to South Korea last summer.
The first ice-breaker-escorted shipment of LNG took place in 2012. At that time, two nuclear-powered icebreakers accompanied the Ob River, as it sailed from Norway to Japan.